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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes from Caps' Morning Skate 12/09

Caps take ice with Backstrom and with optimal lineup for first time in '19-20, power play making do without lots of chances, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Waiting For Columbus - Following a triumphant four-game road trip and a first-ever sweep of the California swing, the Caps are back in town for a quick two-game homestand. First up are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night. Washington will be seeing a lot of the Jackets this month; three of the Caps' next eight games are against Columbus. The two teams meet in Ohio's capital city a week from tonight, and they'll also play in the District on Dec. 27 in the first game back from the NHL's holiday break.

Washington is carrying a six-game winning streak into Monday's game while the Jackets are seeking to halt a four-game slide (0-4-0) during which they've scored only five goals. They might not be scoring, but the Jackets are pouring pucks on net. They've amassed 30 or more shots on goal in 15 of their last 17 games, and rank sixth in the league with an average of 33.7 shots on net per game.

"Since the start of this month, they're actually No. 1 in terms of shot volume, and then sixth overall," Caps coach Todd Reirden points out. "Throughout the year, they're a team that uses their defense a lot to be able to put pucks at the net, and then they recover them. They hang their hat on how hard they forecheck and how hard they work. They make it difficult on the opposition that way.

"And their [defensemen] are very active on the blueline, especially guys like [Seth] Jones, obviously. It's fortunate for us to not have to play against [Zach] Werenski, who I think is one of the better guys in the league. But either way, that's their system and we've got to be good in our [defensive] zone tonight for sure."

Boys Are Back In Town - Not only are the Caps back in town after a week on the road, but for the first time this season - in the 32nd game of 2019-20 - they'll be dressing their optimal lineup for the first time this season. Injuries and suspensions have conspired to keep the Caps from doing to this point of the campaign, but with Nicklas Backstrom now cleared to play and returning from an eight-game absence, we'll get our first look at how Reirden and GM Brian MacLellan want this team to look.

Video: Todd Reirden speaks with the media on December 9.

"That'll be nice, and that's the plan, at least," says Reirden. "It seems like we thought we were going to be there a few times this year, and then something happened last minute or whatever. But yeah, that'll be good, especially after the long trip and getting back and up and running here at home, with the time change and all that, and trying to get our clocks back on the normal schedule here, ready for [Monday]."

Last season, the Caps were into mid-February and two-third through their schedule before the finally had their optimal lineup on the ice for the first time, so they're a couple months ahead of schedule this time around. 

"I think it's great," says Caps winger Carl Hagelin, who recently returned after missing 11 games with an upper body injury. "You don't want to see anyone injured obviously, but the guys that have come in during these injuries have played great, and that's why we're a successful team. It doesn't matter who is out, and who is in, we find a way to win. But obviously this is our team, and it's good to see everyone back." 

In particular, Lars Eller has done a terrific job of filling in up in the top six during Backstrom's absence, as he did during Evgeny Kuznetsov's three-game NHL suspension at the outset of the season. Eller had a goal and seven points in those 11 "fill-in" games, and he has been solid on the face-off dot and in his own zone as well. 

Now Eller will return to the middle of a line between Hagelin and Richard Panik, a unit we have only seen for about four games of the 31 to date, and not at all since mid-October. Hagelin and Panik have put together three straight strong games with Travis Boyd between them, and now they'll aim to keep it going with Eller in the middle. 

"It's his first year with the team here," says Hagelin of Panik. "I obviously played a couple of games last year, but for him coming in as the new guy, it's never easy. I think now he's starting to figure out the systems and it makes it easier for everyone. The team is playing well, and that helps, too."

Power Hungry - The Caps haven't had more than three power play opportunities in any of their last 13 games, and they've scored seven extra-man goals during that span. Despite the relative dearth pf power play chances, the Capitals are 9-2-2 in that 13-game stretch.

Washington's extra man unit has been remarkably consistent this season, even with limited opportunities. The Caps have had three games in which they've had one power play chance, and they've cashed in. That's helped them become one of only four teams who have yet to go more than two straight games without a power-play goal this season. St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Vancouver are the other three teams with that distinction. 

Video: Locker Room | December 8

"I think we've responded really well," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, the league's first star for the week ending Dec. 8. "I think there has definitely been a lot of outings that we really aren't feeling great about ourselves after the game in terms of opportunities that we had, what we created, and what kind of momentum we created. 

"But as a whole, I think we've responded really well, whether that's after a bad one in a particular game, or after a whole game of bad power plays. We work hard at it, we talk about it a lot, and I think that's shining through."

More Miles Than Money - Caps assistant equipment manager Craig "Woody" Leydig works in his 2,500th NHL game on Monday night against Columbus. Leydig's first NHL game was way back in the 1987-88 season with the New York Islanders in a game at Vancouver on Oct. 10, 1987. 

Ronald Reagan occupied the White House in those days, and Islanders dynasty holdovers and future Hockey Hall of Famers Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Billy Smith still patrolled the ice for the Isles. 

A week ago tonight in San Jose, Leydig was feted at dinner in his honor with MacLellan, Reirden, the rest of the coaching staff and the Caps' traveling crew of staff, a group of 18 people altogether. 

Congratulations, Woody, and we wish you many more.

Video: Two-Man Advantage | December 9 

In The Nets - Braden Holtby will be in net for Washington on Monday against the Jackets, seeking his fifth straight victory. Holtby has a 14-1-2 record with a 2.42 GAA and a .924 save pct. in his last 17 starts, and he has helped the Caps to a point in 19 of his 22 starts this season (15-2-4). 

Lifetime against the Blue Jackets, Holtby is 15-6-2 with a couple of shutouts, a 2.46 GAA and a .919 save pct.

Joonas Korpisalo gets the net for the Jackets on Monday in Washington. With the offseason departure of longtime Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, Korpisalo has inherited the No. 1 netminding duties for the Jackets, and he is responsible for all 11 Columbus victories this season (11-10-1) as rookie backup Elvis Merzlikins is still seeking his first victory (0-4-3).

Korpisalo had a four-game winning streak in mid-November, but he has dropped three of four starts since. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 1-0-0 with a 1.16 GAA and a .958 save pct. in two appearances. 

All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Jackets to look on Monday night when they meet up for the first of three times this month:

 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

13-Vrana, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie

62-Hagelin, 20-Eller, 14-Panik

28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway 

Defensemen

6-Kempny, 74-Carlson

9-Orlov, 3-Jensen

34-Siegenthaler, 33-Gudas

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

30-Samsonov 

Injuries

None 

Scratches

72-Boyd

 

COLUMBUS

Forwards

22-Milano, 18-Dubois, 28-Bjorkstrand

71-Foligno, 38-Jenner, 77-Anderson

14-Nyquist, 42-Texier, 13-Atkinson

10-Wennberg, 20-Nash, 50-Robinson 

Defensemen

46-Kukan, 3-Jones

27-Murray, 58-Savard

44-Gavrikov, 2-Peeke 

Goaltenders

70-Korpisalo

90-Merzlikins 

Injuries

8-Werenski (lower body)

17-Dubinsky (wrist)

52-Bemstrom (upper body)

65-Nutivaara (upper body)

Scratches

4-Harrington

50-Robinson

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